Hometown Heroes

Kamikaze Foiled, Life Spared

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LISTEN to Bob Ashburn on Hometown Heroes
90-year-old Bob Ashburn of Atwater, CA appears on episode #391 of Hometown Heroes, debuting October 31, 2015. A native of Torrington, WY, Ashburn served in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War.

Bob and Edna Ashburn in their Atwater, CA home. For more photos, visit the Hometown Heroes facebook page.

Bob and his wife of 62 years, Edna, in their Atwater, CA home. For more photos, visit the Hometown Heroes facebook page.

The oldest of four boys, Ashburn remembers hard work in Wyoming, from mowing lawns to “cutting spuds,” to helping to build a grain elevator, to the hay farm where he was working as a 16-year-old on December 7, 1941. You’ll hear Bob remember how he found out about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, why he was motivated to enlist in the Navy, and how the war brought his entire family to California. He joined in Colorado, trained in Idaho and Minnesota, and his long train ride from Norfolk, VA to the west coast was memorable enough that you’ll hear him share why it served as an eye opener for the teenage sailor. His destination was Mare Island, CA, where he became part of the original crew of the diesel electric destroyer escort USS Tisdale (DE-33). An electrician’s mate, Bob’s duty station when general quarters sounded was the port side depth charge K-gun in rear of the ship.
Bob's ship earned the nickname "The Lucky T" after escaping major damage during World War II.

Bob’s ship earned the nickname “The Lucky T” after escaping major damage during World War II.

Ashburn got his first taste of battle at Tarawa, and the danger continued at Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. You’ll hear him remember the carnage he encountered at Tarawa, the heartbreak of witnessing the aftermath of mass propaganda-fueled suicides on Saipan, and how he ended up counting a “half invasion” in his tally of war experiences. The hairiest of many close calls he and his fellow sailors on “The Lucky T” survived was a kamikaze attack that was thwarted with a perfect shot at the perfect time.

“At about 50 yards away,” Ashburn recalls. “He was coming head on into us, but we got a direct hit. It must have hit on his bomb, because that plane just blew up.”

If the kamikaze hadn’t been hit in that exact spot at that time, Ashburn is convinced he would have been killed, along with many others. That was the closest call, but the threat was ever present. “I said my prayers every night,” you’ll hear Ashburn say, his voice trembling with emotion. “And I’ve said the same prayer ever since. It was just by the grace of God that we made it, that’s all I can figure.”

Bob an 18-year-old sailor.

Bob as an 18-year-old sailor.

Ashburn was one of thousands of World War II veterans who sent in donations to build the National World War II Memorial, which was finally completed in 2004 at a cost of more than 190 million dollars. In 2014, he got to see the monument to which he had contributed, journeying to Washington, D.C. with Central Valley Honor Flight. Listen to Hometown Heroes for his favorite memories from the trip, including an unexpected moment that made him swell with pride. Representing the “Greatest Generation” also makes him proud, and he thinks today’s America could learn from the unity on display during World War II. “We were a patriotic bunch,” Bob says. “I’m not too sure we are anymore.” Maybe you can change his mind. If you encounter this Navy veteran, please thank him for serving our country.
Paul Loeffler

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